YOUTH ENGAGEMENT FRAMEWORK
The information you will find in this framework has been collected through a variety of means:
A Review of Existing Frameworks | An internet search, coupled with a question posed to professionals working with youth, turned up a number of existing youth engagement frameworks, toolkits, and strategies created by various groups. We reviewed these frameworks, looking for similarities, core themes, learnings, and challenges.
A Literature Search | Literature and resource searches based on identified core themes have been ongoing throughout the entire framework building process.
The Youth Advisory Group | In order to center youth voices and ensure that young people were involved to the greatest extent possible throughout the process, we opened applications for a Youth Advisory Group (YAG). Read more about the YAG and their contributions to the framework here.
Qualitative Interviews | From November 2021 to February 2022, we interviewed ten employers, organizations, and service providers who exemplified positive youth engagement practices. In the same timeframe, we interviewed eleven young people who had recently transitioned into the workforce.
Surveys | To reach more people, we launched a pair of surveys. Those surveys received, respectively, responses from thirty-two young people and nine employers, organizations, and service providers.
Focus Groups | Fifteen youth participated in a series of three virtual focus groups held between January and March 2022 to offer their thoughts on discussion prompts related to the core framework themes.
Feedback Groups | Once we had an initial draft of the framework together, we wanted to ensure that it accurately reflected the hopes and needs of both youth and employers. We extended an invitation to all our interviewees, focus group participants, and youth advisory group members from earlier in the process to come back and review the framework prior to its launch, and were able to apply their feedback while also giving them a sneak peak of the thing they helped create!
In creating this framework, we also held close a number of guiding principles. The following principles helped inform our research process, supported our interactions with community, and influenced the format and presentation of the completed framework:
Our communities (or in this case, our youth), know best how to solve their own problems. Knowing this, we take a first-voice, person-centered approach to all of our work—engaging with and listening to youth, and holding what they tell us as extremely valuable. Personal experience, when it comes to topics such as youth engagement, is almost always more relevant than academic texts or peer-reviewed journals, because every context, and every youth, is unique, and will require unique supports.
This framework will never be able to encompass the voices of every young person. We went into this project knowing that whatever we write, and whatever recommendations or resources we include, what youth are saying on the ground will always take precedence. The only potentially universal recommendation you’ll see throughout this framework is this: ask your youth.
In all our work, the CEI leans heavily on the principles of Asset-Based Citizen-Led Development (ABCD), which focuses on looking at how we can learn from each other and do better using our existing assets, skills, and talents, and what we’re already doing well. There’s no need to reinvent what’s already working—instead, we can build from those proven successes to create better, stronger systems that reflect the communities they support.
In researching this framework, this strengths-based approach came through in various ways. Namely, we used appreciative inquiry in building our surveys, interviews, and focus groups—asking first and foremost about positive experiences and key learnings, rather than dwelling on failures. Believing in youths’ abilities to contribute valuable framework pieces was also a big piece of this approach, particularly within the framework’s Youth Advisory Group.
And finally, we wanted to make sure that whatever we created would actually be useful. Research shouldn’t only exist on paper, but rather, should be clearly applicable to real life, and accessible to all. This framework could have been presented as a formal academic research paper—but if we’d done that, it may never have made its way out of academic circles.
DOING THIS WORK IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
Work on this framework began in August 2021, a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on this work has meant that we were unable to reach as many people as we would normally expect to, and that we had to rely on different means of connection to collect information. Our usual travel across the province was difficult to plan and sometimes impossible, and in general, people were hesitant to plan for in-person meetings or focus groups given the uncertainty of changing restrictions and case numbers.
COVID-19 has also had a huge impact on our capacity as human beings to take on new things, or engage in new projects. We are so very grateful to everyone who gifted us some of their time and expertise, and recognize that our reach was perhaps not as wide as it could have been in pre-COVID times. We’re still working on figuring out how best to engage while living with these added complications and stressors, and will continue to build out this framework as we learn more.